I've read a story about a woman who was put into a gas chamber and survived it.

In the most notorious of all, Auschwitz-Birkeanau, she was herded naked into a gas chamber with hundreds of others.

Yet Turgel, who was 21 at the time, walked out alive.

She had no idea the Nazis had tried to kill her until a woman she knew said, “Don’t you know what has just happened to you? You were in the gas chamber!”

Obviously, she wasn't put into the gas chamber again.

I'm wondering, why. There are several options:

  1. The guards didn't notice that she walked away and she was dead on paper.
  2. The guards did notice it, but decided not to gas her again.
  3. There was a policy not to gas one person twice.
  4. She fled from the concentration camp immediately after gassing.

Which of these options is most likely based on what we know about Nazi concentration camps?

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    Logically speaking, 3 seems wildly implausible, and we can rule 1, 4 out. Since she was in the gas chamber with "hundreds" without realising she dodged death, all or most of the others must have survived too. There's no realistic possibility where the Nazis would've failed to notice this. The article also mentions she was transported to another concentration camp where she was liberated by British forces, so she clearly did not escape. I think, most likely the Nazis simply ran out of time due to the approaching Red Army.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 7:24
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    Another survivor's account mentions guards running out of gas and returning victims back to camp. Since both incidents happened in the same camp, the reason probably was similar - the gas chamber was not in working condition for some reason. Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 8:48
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    "She had no idea the Nazis had tried to kill her" - very implausible. Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 13:17
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    @FranzDrollig true, but it's highly unlikely she'd fail to notice the bodies being dragged out after the chamber was operated. What surprises me more is that she wasn't just shot by a guard, unless she somehow managed to hide in between the workers sent in to empty out the bodies and burn them.
    – jwenting
    Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 14:03
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    @jwenting not if the chamber failed to operate at all - i.e. if not only she, but all others who were stuffed inside with her survived, as was the case in that other story I linked in an earlier comment. Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 4:05

2 Answers 2


The general question is unanswerable for all cases. It is also too unspecific regarding the timeframe. The policies and purposes for all such camps changed over time. A concentration camp was operated differently in 1933 compared to 1943 or 1945 and the so called extermination camps a different again.
Except that one thing is sure: the Germans in the SS tried to kill every Jew, really hard. That was the plan, officially, after the Wannsee-conference. If a person was to be shot and the pistol was jammed then the person would be shot by another one, beaten to death, etc. There was certainly no general contingency plan for what to do when the first attempt to kill anyone didn't work as planned. Only the end result mattered in the 'final solution'.

But for Gena Turgel (born Goldfinger) the case seems to be known:

At one stage she survived the gas chambers, when the mechanism broke and she later said this narrow escape convinced her she had a duty to bear witness to the Holocaust by speaking to schoolchildren about it.
Telegraph: "'Bride of Belsen' who survived four death camps dies aged 95" (9 JUNE 2018 • 3:06PM)

That means that a whole "batch" of people walked in and survived. Meaning that only case 2 from the question is remotely applicable here:

The guards did notice it, but did not try to gas her again.

Or as Danila Smirnov commented:

Another survivor's account mentions guards running out of gas and returning victims back to camp. Since both incidents happened in the same camp, the reason probably was similar - the gas chamber was not in working condition for some reason.

And after the gassing attempt the time was running up for the death camp:

In January 1945 Gena and her mother were sent on a death march from Auschwitz, leaving behind Hela, Gena’s sister. They never saw her again. After several days they came to Włocławek (Leslau in German) where they were forced onto trucks. They travelled under terrible conditions for the next three to four weeks, eventually arriving in Buchenwald concentration camp. From there they were sent on cattle trucks to Bergen-Belsen, where they arrived in February 1945. het.org.uk: Gena Turgel MBE

This story is one of a certain degree of luck and timing:

On 26 January 1945, the last crematorium V at Birkenau was demolished with explosives just one day ahead of the Soviet attack. WP: Auschwitz concentration camp

That brings us back to the opening paragraph: after the failed gassing they tried to kill Goldfinger on a death march.

  • 3
    the idea that the primary purpose of the camps was to kill people is mistaken. Yes, a lot of people were killed there, but the primary purpose was to provide cheap labour to surrounding industry (there were a few dedicated extermination camps, but none of the ones mentioned here are on that list). Those sent to the gas chamber were generally sent there because they were deemed incapable of doing the labour the camp needed to supply, usually stone quarries, heavy industrial work, and other things requiring physical strength.
    – jwenting
    Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 14:06
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    [ctd] Hence mostly the old, young children, and women were gassed on arrival. Men were sent on work details. The purpose of the Endloesung was indeed to exterminate the Jews (and others) but the purpose of the camps was primarily economical. Working the inmates to death was the solution chosen, and executing them for the smallest infraction of camp rules, especially when already near death from exposure, injuries, and malnutrition.
    – jwenting
    Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 14:08
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    @jwenting depends which camps.
    – user31561
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 18:02
  • @Orangesandlemons as I mentioned. And even for the same camp there often was some shift in operational patterns over time depending on the number of workers required as compared to the number of prisoners coming in.
    – jwenting
    Commented Jul 9, 2018 at 4:35

In "Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness Account" by Dr. Miklos Nyiszli, which I read years ago, he mentioned a survivor who had passed out, possibly surviving by having her head near an air pocket in a pile of bodies, who was revived. She was returned to the gas chamber shortly thereafter.

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